Three members of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) abruptly resigned in October. The ISC is a Governor-appointed body that oversees the agency charged with protecting, conserving, and developing the state’s waters along with ensuring compliance with interstate water compacts. One of the members who resigned, Jim Dunlap, expressed concern that the State Engineer was not regarding the ISC as a separate and district agency from the Office of the State Engineer (OSE). The two agencies are intertwined water management agencies and have roles that are sometimes conflicting. The OSE approves permits for drilling, appropriations, and water transfers which sometimes puts that agency in conflict with the role of the ISC to protect waters of the state. Dunlap cited concerns over the recent turnover in the staff at the Interstate Stream Commission and related concerns over the need to distinguish between the roles of the ISC and OSE.
U.S. Senator Tom Udall introduced a bill to help acequias and land grants in New Mexico access additional federal resources for water and resource conservation projects. The bill, Providing Land Grants and Acequias Conservation and Environmental Services (PLACES) Act of 2017, cosponsored by U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, will allow acequias and land grants access to federal programs that provide funding and technical assistance to farmers to increase agricultural water efficiency and further conservation of soil, water and other natural resources.
On September 15, 2017, the State Auditor sent a letter to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) questioning its handling of the giant Santolina development. The project would house upwards of 90,000 people and would require nearly 20 million gallons of water per day, at least 20 schools, and two I-40 interchanges. The total number of acre feet per year required for the development is 14,000 acre feet of water. Despite constant and frequent calls from concerned water advocates, the Bernalillo County Commission has allowed the proposal to continue through the permitting process without a concrete plan on where the water for the development will come from. While not directly addressing the lack of a water plan, the State Auditor is concerned about potential violations of the anti-donation clause of the New Mexico Constitution and the Water and Wastewater Expansion Ordinance in the ABCWUA’s handling of Santolina’s proposal. The ABCWUA is required to address the State Auditor’s concerns in its next audit.
The Special Master presiding over the Rio Gallinas adjudication has issued a sixty-eight page draft report recommending an equitable remedy following the abolishment of the pueblo rights doctrine, a doctrine of law that the City of Las Vegas asserted for many decades as the basis for its claim that it is senior to all other appropriators, even the acequias whose priority dates are between 1848 and 1872. In his report, the Special Master recommends that 1200 acre feet per year (AFY) of the City’s 2600 AFY (previously owned by PNM with a priority date of 1881) be adjudicated a priority date of 1835, the year the land grant was made. The City’s 1835 water rights (1200 AFY) leapfrog over all of the acequia rights and have first priority in the whole system. The acequias have 2nd priority and are senior to the City’s 1881 water rights, and other water right owners including the Gallinas Canal Company and the Storrie Project. To “compensate” the acequias for leapfrogging the City’s 1200 AFY to 1st priority, the Special Master would have the City pay $1.7 million. The payment would be made to individual parciantes, not to the acequias. This comes out to about $2,000 per acre. A final report will be filed with the district court and is subject to objections by the parties.
The NMAA has formally joined the Parkview Community Ditch in its efforts to uphold a district court decision that found that the acequia did nothing wrong in conducting its annual meeting and election in Spanish. The NMAA, along with the New Mexico Land Grant Council, two acequias and two land grants, will file an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the later part of December urging the New Mexico Court of Appeals to uphold the lower court’s ruling. The Court’s decision will likely have widespread implications for acequias and land grants that conduct their meetings in Spanish.
With the help of the NMAA, TVAA, and local acequias, the Town of Taos continues to fine-tune its ordinance passed in August that protects acequias from potentially damaging encroachment on any part of the acequia network. The current ordinance, known as the Hahn Amendment (after Councilman Fritz Hahn, an acequia advocate who proposed the amendment) enhanced the local land use development code to require acequia approval for any development on land that contains any part of the acequia network and easement, including the acequia madre, laterals, point of diversion, and desagues. The current version is found at 16.20.060.02 of the Town Code. Changes NMAA has advocated for include a clearer process for what happens in the event that an acequia does not respond to a developer’s request for approval; a default setback requirement that mirrors the easement in an affected acequia’s bylaws, and in the case that an acequia does not define an easement in their bylaws, the broad statutory easement granted to acequias; and removal of language concerning abandonment.
As 2017 comes to a close, acequias can reflect on a fulfilling and challenging year! We enjoyed Summer rains and a bountiful harvest, only to be followed by an unseasonably dry Fall. With the ups and downs of the seasons, we continue our diligence in planning for the future while we hope for a good snowpack and Spring runoff. The NMAA continued the vital work of protecting acequia water rights and revitalizing our land-based economy. As we look to the coming year, we are asking for your support to continue our mission of protecting acequias through education, organizing, and advocacy.
Join the NMAA and together we can protect our acequias!
NMAA is a unique organization that honors our ancient legacy of water governance while also working to adapt for the future. For nearly 30 years, NMAA has been responding to challenges through communication, training, and education for acequias. Together we have built a movement around the principle that Water is Life, El Agua es Vida, and that we are defenders of the precious waters that nurture our communities.
NMAA is a membership based organization that depends on your support to continue our vital work! For the NMAA, 2017 was a time of centering on key priorities of protecting acequia water rights and creating a new generation of acequia farmers.
The NMAA assisted 333 acequias with assistance on governance and held over 20 workshops, acequia meetings, and events with 1,116 participants.
We also launched Los Sembradores Farmer Training Program and completed our first class of apprenticeships!
Our impact resulted in stronger local governance with better agricultural use and protection of acequia water rights. During 2018, we will build on this success and continue to be a force for change in New Mexico by defending water, training community leaders, and building a new generation of acequia farmers!
Please join the NMAA or renew your membership on our website, www.lasacequias.org, or by calling our office at 505-995-9644. Thank you for all you do to keep our acequias vibrant and beautiful!!
Professor Lamadrid (Ph.D. University of Southern California) is a Professor of Spanish and former director of Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies. His teaching and research interests include Southwest Hispanic and Latin American folklore and folk music, Chicano literature, and literary recovery projects. His research on the Indo-Hispanic traditions of New Mexico charts the influence of indigenous cultures on the Spanish language and imagination. His literary writings explore the borderlands between cultures, their natural environments, and between popular traditions and literary expression.
Allí viene amaneciendo, There comes the dawn,
yo sigo trabajando I keep on working
para mantener to take care of
lo que yo quiero tanto. what I love so much.
-“Canto a la acequia” – David García y amigos
When we are born, our mother literally gives us the light. “Da luz,” we say in the language of our Iberian forebears. As soon as our eyes are accustomed to the brilliance, we memorize the features of her face. As we rise to walk upon the earth, we transpose her profile to those first intimate horizons: a house, cottonwoods by a river, an acequia, a field, a road, a distant line of hills beyond. Because we are human we see faces in the rocks. Clouds are animate visitors to this realm. Trees lift up their arms to greet them as they pass. The river at their feet is a messenger who sings of life and distant oceans. Drink from this stream and you are destined to return to its waters.
Querencia is the place of returning, the center space of desire, the wellspring of belonging and yearning to belong, a destination overflowing with life but suitable to die in, that vicinity where you first beheld the light. The place of birth or re-birth. Querencia is remembrance of harmony, a longing so profound even trees and stones share in its emotion: “Los palos, las piedras lloran / por verme salir cautiva.” In the old ballads of exile and captivity, a compassionate landscape is moved to tears by human suffering. “Este valle de lágrimas, this valley of tears” is the place of our pain and redemption, of the prayers we offer to the mother of pain.
In an arid land, home is always by the water. In the most primordial sense, Nuevo Mexico is P’osoge, the Río Bravo, Río del Norte, the great river that cuts its verdant course through the desert. Since all human beings need to be by the water, the banks of this river are by definition a contested space. The Españoles arrived with all the fury and suppressed desire of the Spanish peasant to possess the land and its waters. The price of arrogance was paid in blood in 1680 when the Río Grande Pueblos arose and reclaimed their heritage. When settlers returned in 1693, they were already calling themselves Españoles Mexicanos. In an alliance of necessity with the Pueblos, they all defended their valleys from the new lords of the land, los Comanches, los Apaches, los Yutas. Captives were taken by all sides in the conflict and an economy of slavery emerged. Human beings in trade were worth more than livestock, more than the produce of the land. In the space of a few mestizo generations, the newcomers who sought title to the land were instead possessed by the land. As they became Nuevomexicanos, indigenous to this place, the boundaries of the Campo Santo, the Sacred Ground, spread past the narrow church yard and the bones of the dead towards valleys, plains, and mountains beyond. Tierra sagrada.
In the center of this sacred landscape are the native and mestizo peoples who have survived the rigors of the northern desert and the cost of each other’s desire. They are dancing. From Taos to El Paso del Norte they step in unison to the insistent but gentle music of drums and rattles, guitars and violins. Two intertwined traditions of Indo-Hispano danza emerged. The Matachines reconcile the spiritual conflicts of colonization. The Comanches honor the fierce struggles of our history and remember its victims and survivors, los Comanchitos. Both are rituals from which our communities draw their strength and desire to defend their heritage. Acequia culture is built in this bedrock.
Se defiende lo que se ama, You defend what you love
se ama lo que se entiende, you love what you understand,
se aprecia lo que se enseña. to appreciate what you are taught.
Amar es aprender a defender. To love is to learn to defend
– Estevan Arellano
El agua no se vende,
el agua se defiende.
¡que vivan las acequias!
Note: In this continuing series of cultural sketches, Olivia Romo, NMAA and Enrique Lamadrid invite readers to submit poetry and cultural documentation of the rituals of water.
Martha Montoya-Trujillo, is a lifelong resident of Pojoaque, NM and is the current Secretary of Acequia del Rincon. Martha is wife to Alex Trujillo, Mayordomo of the Acequia del Rincon since 1995. She is also board member of the New Mexico Acequia Association, Los Amigos de Los Luceros, and a Member of Northern New Mexicans Protecting Land Water and Rights.
The name “Acequia del Rincon”, noun rincón: (ángulo) corner inside; (inside) is true to its name. The diversion point is within the corner of the Nambe and Pojoaque Pueblo exterior boundaries dating back to 1739, in the Nambe, Pojoaque, Tesuque Basin (NPT Basin).
Much of our history is documented in the odd shaped red on white journals, yes, the journals that everyone knew were not to be touched but treasured and preserved under the care of the Commissioners of the Acequia (ditch). In the possession of the commissioners is a recorded entry dated Abril 21 de 1900 documenting Reglas de la Acequia Del Rincon En Pojoaque, New Mexico. The history of our ancestors told with each handwritten entry, in script font penning the gastos (spending), the treasurers report, the reglas (rules), the derechos of the acequia and the lay of the land. Not only do we have the history of rules and water rights, but what a gift to see our ancestry of primos (relatives) passing down the roles and tradition to their children and their children’s children.
Over hundreds of years the legacy, dedication, and responsibility has not missed a beat! Past Commissioners and Mayordomos memories of yesteryears speak affectionately of their fathers as commissioners and mayordomos and the work that needed to be done out of necessity , all the while comparing those hardships to the luxuries of today. Rudy Roybal, a former Treasurer for 23 years recalls his father, Meliton Roybal, having to pull dirt from the acequia madre to stop the water and divert it into the lateral, year after year. With the luxury of a modern day compuerta (headgate) makes Rudy’s life much easier. You hear Rudy’s voice soften as he remembers his father and smiles.
Many of our farmers are between 60 and 80 years of age. The old traditions are hard for them to break because of their ingrained duty to work and love of land but the hardship of keeping the land thriving has proven to be an evergrowing challenge. For some producers the challenge is age, equipment to work the land, funds needed to plant crops and risk of loss due to lack of water and usage. The challenges ahead will prove to be a testament to us and the next generation, as we are all called to be good stewards of what has been entrusted to us.
A tradition, years ago, families with derechos would report for a day or two for the “limpia” (cleaning) of the acequia. In late April in preparation for the irrigation season, fathers and sons took a tarea (task, work) per derecho. Around lunch time, the peones (workers) would be close to our house, and mom would make a traditional meal of corn fritters with red chile, tortillas and beans. The back ground music was usually the sound of files sharpening shovels and off to work, but still back home around 5pm with plenty of energy for an evening with a cold drink and a night out.
Today, our limpia is not celebrated. The cross road is cost and effectiveness, so it is now contracted. Water is released by March 1st, pushing through parts of the acequia that is cement, dirt or pipe. Each transition presenting a different challenge, but the water manages to make its way, enduring hundreds of years, never changing, and always ready for its yearly tarea coming out of a dry winter in a desert land.
As Commissioners we have encouraged parciantes to use the land, be more creative in the delivery of water by using more efficient systems such as underground piping and drip irrigation systems. In 2017 we completed the reconstruction of a fifty plus year old Presa (dam or weir) in collaboration with the Pueblo of Pojoaque who are also parciantes of the Rincon.
How did we manage in the past? Pure NEED to survive, there was no romance in the back breaking work of digging a presa, cleaning the acequia after a flood, rebuilding a dam in the middle of the river, using rama ( tree branches) and rocks to divert the water. But, that did not stop production of provision for families.
I know my dad planted out of necessity, with 12 mouths to feed. He planted fields of sweet corn (sometimes blue), beans and squash while managing to keep the pigs and goats contained (well at least most of the time). Now, this same land is divided into smaller parcels planted mostly with memories, our inspiration for the future!
Water rights adjudications can take many forms. An adjudication court (state or federal) can determine groundwater rights only, or both surface and groundwater, either at the same time or at a different time during an adjudication. Adjudications may involve a single stream system and its tributaries, or just a tributary of a larger stream. A large river, like the Rio Grande or the Rio Chama, may be broken into segments, and each segment may be adjudicated separately. Like any lawsuit, adjudications can result in settlements between parties. Despite the differences, water rights adjudications in New Mexico have several things in common. The purpose of this article is to describe some of the common characteristics associated with water rights adjudications and ways parciantes and acequias can best prepare for adjudication.
A water rights adjudication is a civil lawsuit that involves the State of New Mexico, via the Office of the State Engineer (OSE), and water right claimants. A claimant is anyone that may claim to be the owner of a water right in the adjudication. The State brings the lawsuit, and is therefore the plaintiff, and the claimants are the defendants, and therefore defend against inaccurate claims made by the State pertaining to the use of water. The bottom-line on this point is that lawsuits are time-intensive and require resources. Anytime someone defends a legal right in court, there is a lot at stake. While courts in most cases allow a party to proceed pro se – without an attorney – a water right claimant and an acequia will likely need to retain an attorney at some point during an adjudication. Because water rights are a type of property right – and in the arid southwest a property right of high economic, cultural and historical value – water right owners should assume that those rights will be challenged during adjudication. Do not wait for an adjudication to begin to understand the implications of losing your water rights. The better informed you are about the process and the full extent of your rights, the better prepared you will be to present your own defense initially and if you have to retain a lawyer, you’ll be ready to evaluate his or her advice.
Because a water rights adjudication is a type of lawsuit, proper notice and service is required for a decision of the court to be binding on the water right claimant. The Office of the State Engineer is required to review legal records, including its own records (change of ownership forms), records of acequias, and county clerk records to determine who potential water right claimants are and should therefore be included as defendants in the adjudication. Parciantes do themselves a disservice by not being included as early as possible in adjudication. For example, water right owners of record will have a certain amount of time to respond to offers from the State or to orders from the court. It is better to have enough time to thoughtfully respond to the State or the court than argue later that you had no notice of a particular deadline. Keep ownership information current with your acequia. If you subdivide irrigable land and deed the land to your children, for example, inform the acequia immediately and encourage your children to record their deeds with the county clerk and file change of water right ownership forms with the OSE.
Another source of information the OSE will use when compiling information for adjudications are declarations. Individual parciantes, and sometimes acequias, file water right declarations with the district office of the State Engineer that indicate the extent of the pre-1907 water right claimed in the declaration. Statute provides that the contents of the declaration are “prima facie evidence of the truth of [the declaration’s] contents.” This provision sets up a presumption that the information declared is the extent of the water right and the State has the burden of overcoming that presumption by presenting contrary evidence. So, the declaration serves two purposes. First, in conjunction with a change of ownership form, the individual parciante named in the declaration may be notified when an adjudication is underway. Second, the parciante, not the State, has established the basis of the water right that any party challenging the water right must come to terms with.
Every adjudication initiated by the State begins with a hydrographic survey in which the OSE maps out current water use and, in the case of surface water, assigns a tract number to the irrigated parcel. The hydrographic survey serves as the basis for an offer from the State for a water right. If the OSE’s staff that prepared the survey determined that no irrigation was taking place at the time of a site visit of a parcel, the owner of that parcel can expect to receive a no right offer or an incomplete offer that may only recognize the amount of land actually irrigated at the time of the visit. Occasionally, the OSE completely leaves out tracts that are irrigated or have a history of irrigation. In those cases, it is possible that no offer will be made and it may be up to the claimant to file an omitted claim (“omitted” because it was not part of the hydrographic survey) during the adjudication. The best way for a parciante to have water rights recognized in a hydrographic survey is to irrigate. It is unlikely that a water right owner will receive advance notice that OSE staff is compiling information on each parcel served by an acequia. Therefore, parciantes should be vigilant in irrigating every few years so that they are not put in the position of having to contest a no right offer. After all, the New Mexico constitution provides that beneficial use is the basis, the measure, and the limit of the right to use water.
Finally, the importance of pre-adjudication organizing cannot be overstressed. Regional associations of acequias – before, during, and after adjudication – have proven to be a source of unity and strength in contesting claims of non-use or negotiating the best possible outcome for acequias within a stream system. Public money is available through the Acequia and Community Ditch Fund to help acequias during adjudications pay for legal and technical defense costs. While individual acequias have a key role in preparing parciantes for adjudications – especially by keeping membership lists current, having regular meetings and elections, and updating bylaws – regionals associations can take a more expansive view and support and reinforce their member acequias’ efforts.